Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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Under the federal environmental laws, the owner of property contaminated with hazardous substances or a person who arranges for the disposal of hazardous substances may be strictly liable for subsequent clean-up costs. The United States owned national forest lands in New Mexico that were mined over several generations by Chevron Mining Inc. The question presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the United States is a “potentially responsible party” (PRP) for the environmental contamination located on that land. The Tenth Circuit concluded that under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), the United States is an “owner,” and, therefore, a PRP, because it was strictly liable for its equitable portion of the costs necessary to remediate the contamination arising from mining activity on federal land. The Court also concluded the United States cannot be held liable as an “arranger” of hazardous substance disposal because it did not own or possess the substances in question. The Court reversed the district court in part and affirmed in part, remanding for further proceedings to determine the United States’ equitable share, if any, of the clean-up costs. View "Chevron Mining v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s denial of their request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the drilling of certain oil and gas wells in the Mancos Shale formation of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. The district court concluded that Plaintiffs had failed to satisfy three of the four elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction: (1) Plaintiffs had not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims; (2) the balance of harms weighed against Plaintiffs; and (3) Plaintiffs failed to show that the public interest favored an injunction. Finding no reversible error in the district court's denial, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Dine Citizens v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Petitioners American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, The Cloud Foundation, Return to Freedom, Carol Walker, and Kimerlee Curyl filed this action against Sally Jewell, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, and Neil Kornze, the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), seeking review of BLM’s decision to remove wild horses in certain areas of public land located in southwestern Wyoming within an area known as the “Checkerboard.” The Checkerboard was comprised of over one million acres of generally high desert land, and “derives its name from the pattern of alternating sections of private and public land which it comprises.” Under a 2013 consent decree, BLM agreed to remove all wild horses located on private lands in the Checkerboard. BLM maintained that “due to the unique pattern of land ownership” within the Checkerboard, “and as recognized in the Consent Decree, it is practically infeasible for the BLM to meet its obligations under Section 4 of the [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act ("the Act")] while removing wild horses solely from the private lands sections of the [C]heckerboard.” Petitioners alleged, in pertinent part, that the removal violated the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The district court rejected these claims. Petitioners appealed. The Tenth Circuit reversed, finding it was "improper" for BLM to construe the unambiguous terms “privately owned land” and “private lands,” as used in Section 4 of the Act, to include the public land sections of the Checkerboard. And, in turn, with respect to the FLMPA claims, it was improper for BLM to conduct what it described as a Section 4 gather on the public land sections of the Checkerboard. "By doing so, BLM violated the duties that Section 3 clearly imposes on it with respect to wild horses found on the public land sections of the Checkerboard." The Court reversed the district court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "American Wild Horse v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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The Court consolidated two cases in this opinion. Plaintiffs in both cases complained they were denied due process when the Board of County Commissioners of Elbert County (the Board) required them to rezone their properties before they could subdivide them. They argued that after the Board lost the documents reflecting the prior comprehensive zoning ordinance, it created new documents without following proper procedures for enacting an ordinance and covered up their misconduct. "Perhaps these allegations state a claim under Colorado law." After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that were not deprived of their right to due process under the United States Constitution. View "Onyx Properties v. Elbert Board of County Commissioners" on Justia Law

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Zia Shadows, LLC operated a mobile-home park in Las Cruces, New Mexico, under a special-use permit from the City. In late 2000, a dispute over water-rights fees arose between Zia Shadows and the City, and principal Alex Garth protested these fees and lodged written and oral complaints with the City Council. This appeal arose out of that zoning dispute. Zia Shadows and its principals, Alex and William Garth (collectively, Zia Shadows), filed suit in federal district court, alleging the City’s delays in approval of a zoning request (and the conditions ultimately attached to the approval) violated Zia Shadows’ rights to due process and equal protection. Zia Shadows also alleged the City’s actions were taken in retaliation for Zia Shadows’ public criticisms of the City. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on Zia Shadows’ due-process and equal-protection claims, and a jury found in favor of the City on Zia Shadows’ First Amendment retaliation claim. Zia Shadows argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit: (1) that the district court erred in granting summary judgment; (2) the district court abused its discretion both in its instruction of the jury and its refusal to strike a juror; and (3) the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, concluding Zia Shadows failed to establish the requisite elements of its due-process and equal-protection claims and did not demonstrate reversible error in either the proceedings or verdict at trial. View "Zia Shadows, LLC v. City of Las Cruces" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned two suits: one in state and one in federal court, and statutory limitations on the power of the federal court to enjoin the state court case. In the federal case, the Utah Attorney General and the Board of Tooele County Commissioners sued the federal government under the Quiet Title Act, attempting to quiet title in favor of Utah for hundreds of rights of way in Tooele County, Utah. Five environmental groups opposed this suit, and the federal district court permitted the groups to intervene. In the state court case, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Michael Abdo, a Tooele County resident, claimed that the Utah officials lacked authority under state law to prosecute the quiet-title action in federal court. The Utah officials asked the federal court to enjoin the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo from prosecuting the state-court case. The federal district court granted the request and entered a temporary restraining order enjoining the Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo for an indefinite period of time. The Wilderness Alliance and Mr. Abdo appealed, raising two issues: (1) whether the Tenth Circuit had jurisdiction to hear the appeal; and (2) did the federal district court have the authority to enjoin the state-court suit? After concluding it had jurisdiction to hear this appeal, the Tenth Circuit then concluded that the federal district court did not have authority to enjoin the Utah state court. "The All Writs Act grants a district court expansive authority to issue 'all writs necessary.' But the Anti-Injunction Act generally prohibits federal courts from enjoining state-court suits." An exception exists when an injunction is "in aid of" the federal court’s exercise of its jurisdiction. This exception applies when: (1) the federal and state court exercise in rem or quasi in rem jurisdiction over the same res; and (2) the federal court is the first to take possession of the res. These circumstances are absent because the state-court action was neither in rem nor quasi in rem. Thus, the district court’s order violated the Anti-Injunction Act. View "Tooele County v. United States" on Justia Law

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This case involves the authority of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue nationwide permits under section 404(e) of the Clean Water Act. These permits authorized activities involving discharge of dredged or fill material in U.S. waters and wetlands. TransCanada Corporation proposed to rely on the nationwide permit to build an oil pipeline, the Gulf Coast Pipeline, running approximately 485 miles and cross over 2,000 waterways. The Corps issued letters verifying that Nationwide Permit 12 would cover the proposed construction. Shortly thereafter, TransCanada began constructing the pipeline, which was completed. Three environmental groups (Sierra Club, Inc.; Clean Energy Future Oklahoma; and East Texas Sub Regional Planning Commission) challenged the validity of the nationwide permit and verification letters. The district court rejected these challenges and entered judgment for the defendants. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the entry of judgment in favor of the defendants. View "Sierra Club v. Bostick" on Justia Law

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In April of 2008, Kane County Utah brought an action under the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 28 U.S.C. 2409a, to quiet title to five roads or road segments. It later amended its complaint to cover a total of fifteen roads or road segments. The QTA contains a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for the settlement of property claims against the United States. This case centered on a dispute between Kane County (joined by the State of Utah as intervenors) and the United States over the existence and breadth of the County’s rights-of-way on federally owned land in Southern Utah. In 2013, the district court issued two final orders giving rise to the issues presented to the Tenth Circuit on appeal. After review, the Tenth Circuit found that the district court erred in allowing for unspecified improvements in setting the widths of the rights-of-way on Skutumpah, Swallow Park and North Swag roads. The case was remanded on the question of the scope of the R.S. 2477 rights-of-way on these roads. The County did not explain how it arrived at “disputed title” to Sand Dunes, Hancock or the Cave Lakes roads; the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court and find it had no jurisdiction over the QTA claims to Sand Dunes and Hancock roads and reversed its decision with respect to those roads. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kane County, Utah v. United States" on Justia Law

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Salt Creek Road is an unimproved 12.3-mile road intertwined with the creek bed in Salt Creek Canyon. The state and county wanted to use their claimed right-of-way to prevent the United States from closing the Salt Creek Road to vehicle traffic. The road is the primary way for tourists to reach several scenic sites within the Canyonlands National Park, including Angel Arch. Without vehicle access, the only way to access Angel Arch is to make the nine-mile trek by foot. The state and county based their claim on Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477: "[T]he right of way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public uses, is hereby granted." Congress enacted R.S. 2477 in 1866, and it remained in effect until 1976. Even then, however, Congress preserved the rights-of-way established under the statute. This Quiet Title Act case presented to the Tenth Circuit the issue of whether the district court erred in rejecting the claims of San Juan County and the State of Utah to Salt Creek Road. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "San Juan County, Utah v. United States " on Justia Law

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Petitioner WildEarth Guardians challenged an Environmental Protection Agency order that denied in part its petition for an objection to a Title V operating permit issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to Intervenor Public Service Company of Colorado (d/b/a Xcel Energy), for a coal-fired power station in Morgan County, Colorado. Petitioner argued that the permit should have included a plan to bring the station into compliance with the Clean Air Act. The EPA denied Petitioner's petition for an objection despite the EPA's issuing a citation to Public Service for violating the act in 2002. The EPA concluded that Petitioner's evidence failed to demonstrate a violation, and that the state agency adequately responded to Petitioner's comments before it issued the permit. Petitioner petitioned the Tenth Circuit on appeal. The Court saw no error in the EPA's persuasive interpretation of the demonstration requirement. Furthermore, the Court concluded the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in concluding that Petitioner failed to demonstrate noncompliance with the Act. Therefore the Court affirmed the EPA's order denying in part the petition to object. View "WildEarth v. EPA" on Justia Law